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  • Key insights and recommendations

    Awareness and use of the Small business newsroom service

    Three quarters of the quantitative sample were aware of the Small business newsroom email and/or website. The qualitative research indicated that lack of awareness was likely to be either because small business people simply did not notice it, or because they did not see it as a priority to read at the time of receipt. None said that they had made a conscious decision to ignore the email.

    Of those aware of the email, the majority (83%) read the email when they received it. This equates to 57% of the total sample opening the email. This is a relatively high proportion of recipients when compared to general opening rates of 26% for government newsletters. (1)

    Impact on business taxation practices

    The quantitative research indicated that many of the subscribers used the Small business newsroom service in managing their tax as follows:

    • three quarters said it helped to keep them up to date
    • two thirds said it helped them with their business tax affairs
    • two thirds said that it prompted them to attend to their business tax affairs, and a third use the email as a prompt to act on things like lodgment deadlines.

    In the qualitative research, those who indicated the greatest need for tax related information were:

    • those who were in the process of starting up new businesses
    • those who were relatively new to managing a business
    • those whose business activities or business structures were changing.

    These people were least likely to have established financial and taxation management practices in place and consequently were likely to recognise a need for relevant information. Accordingly, they represent a key target for the Small business newsroom service.

    Recommendation 1: Maintain current appearance and approach

    Less knowledgeable small business people are an important demographic for the Small business newsroom service to target. As such, the current approach used in the Small business newsroom service is appropriate. The ATO should continue to:

    • Maintain the simple language used
    • Maintain the clean, simple layout
    • Maintain the ability to easily click through to more information on topics of interest
    • Provide links to more detailed information with explanations and examples (eg explanation and example of a valid tax invoice), and links to calculators.

    Barriers to usage

    There were no major barriers to use identified in the quantitative research, other than a lack of awareness of the email.

    The main barrier identified to using the service was the volume of general emails sent to small business from all sources (including both government and non-government), with one in five respondents indicating that this was a barrier to using the Small business newsroom service (ie assigning a score of 5). This was supported by the qualitative respondents, who indicated that lack of time and volume of general emails made it difficult for them to find time to attend to all emails they received, including the Small business newsroom emails.

    The main barrier to registering for the Small business newsroom service identified in the qualitative research was uncertainty about the volume of emails that subscribers would receive, with some expectations that subscribing to the Small business newsroom service might result in receipt of a large number of emails. Advising potential subscribers at the time of subscription of the frequency of the Small business newsroom emails could be expected to largely alleviate this potential concern. There was also some indication in the qualitative research that some owners of microbusinesses and home based businesses assumed that their businesses were smaller than typical 'small businesses', and that the information provided in the Small business newsroom service was therefore probably aimed at somewhat larger businesses.

    Recommendation 2: Address email volume expectations

    Provide an indication of the anticipated frequency of emails on the registration page.

    Recommendation 3: Promote newsroom service

    Usage rates could be improved by increasing awareness of the service (qualitative research suggested this was more of an issue amongst non-subscribers and auto subscribers). Lack of awareness appeared to be a larger barrier to usage than any problems associated with the Small business newsroom service itself. Further, whilst awareness of the service was high particularly amongst quantitative respondents (who were primarily self-subscribers), further research is required to improve understanding of why small business, particularly auto subscribers may not be aware of the service, and what can be done to increase awareness.

    Positively, the ATO has already greatly broadened the email distribution, and the Small business newsroom service is prominently displayed on the ATO main website. The ATO should continue to promote the Small business newsroom service through other online channels (eg social media, communications through industry websites, local council websites, government small business websites, etc.).

    In promotion of the service, the ATO should ensure that ‘small business’ is clearly defined, specifically noting that this includes micro businesses and home based businesses.

    Recommendation 4: Monitor email opening metrics and track click through rates to determine article popularity

    Relevance of information varies widely depending on individual respondent and business types. We recommend that the ATO continue to monitor click through rates to identify individual articles of highest interest. If click through rates from emails could be tracked in the future, this would give better information on the types of articles of most interest to different types of businesses.

    Personalising or tailoring the Small business newsroom service

    In the quantitative research, respondents were quite positive towards the overall concept of personalisation. However, in the qualitative research, while positive initially, on reflection respondents tended to change their minds as they thought of possible associated problems, particularly in terms of the potential to miss out on information that may be important as their needs changed. Given that the newsroom was viewed as a ‘just in case’ service by many, that is, as a way of ensuring that they did not miss important information, this was an important consideration.

    The key point here is that the current service was valued, with most seeing little need for substantial change.

    Many of the respondents used the terms 'personalisation' and 'tailoring' interchangeably, and interpreted both to mean that a service could be modified in a way to meet the specific needs of their business.

    However, some qualitative respondents interpreted these terms differently:

    • Personalisation: Information that had been designed specifically in relation to the small business and small business owner /manager in question, using information that was specific to that business.
    • Tailored: Information that was relevant to the business’s characteristics, such as for example, a business of a particular size or structure, but was not directly about that business.

    Recommendation 5: Personalisation less important than article relevance

    Terms such as personalisation and tailoring can be interpreted in different ways by different people, and the terminology used therefore will have an impact on expectations. For most, article relevance was the most critical issue, and personalisation was important insofar as it demonstrated relevance.

    Relevance can be demonstrated through:

    • highlighting articles of relevance to the business via the email subject line
    • placing the articles of most relevance to the individual business towards the top of the email
    • information about tax concessions, particularly those relating to the specific business (eg fuel tax credits for those in the transport industry)
    • information about small business grants (acknowledging this is more pertinent to a ‘whole of government’ approach).

    The ATO already takes steps to address article relevancy; however the Small business newsroom service has a diverse audience. Thus it is important that the focus on understanding and demonstrating relevancy is maintained and/or further developed.

    Impact on perceptions of the ATO

    In the quantitative research, over half said that the Small business newsroom service made them more positive towards the ATO; and those who were aware of the Small business newsroom service prior to completing the survey were significantly more likely to say this.

    Respondents in the qualitative research could be divided into two broad groups:

    • Those who said the Small business newsroom service improved their perceptions of the ATO. These respondents remarked that the Small business newsroom service supported the view that the ATO was an organisation that was trying to help small business.
    • Those for whom the Small business newsroom service had no impact on perceptions:
      • Some said they had a positive view of the ATO prior to becoming aware of the Small business newsroom service, and the Small business newsroom service had no impact on these views.
      • Some were neutral to somewhat negative towards the ATO, and the Small business newsroom service had no impact on these attitudes.

    Digital technology

    Respondents generally saw computers and the internet as crucial in assisting them to run their business and used them across a wide range of activities. Only two respondents in the quantitative research did not use the internet in their business, and most used it extensively for a wide variety of activities for both business and personal reasons. This high internet usage is consistent with ABS’ statistics, which in 2013 to 2014,(2) which showed that 95% of businesses had internet access.

    Most qualitative respondents expressed comfort in using digital technology (level of comfort with technology was not asked in the quantitative research). We therefore conclude that email is an excellent way to communicate to small business, provided concerns about an excessive volume of emails are addressed (see Recommendation 2).

    Potential areas for further investigation

    Outputs from the 2016 research suggested a number of areas for further potential investigation.

    Recommendation 6: Areas suggested for further investigation

    There are a number of areas identified which potentially warrant further investigation:

    • Develop understanding of the drivers of satisfaction with the service: Whilst satisfaction levels were high, in order to maintain satisfaction we recommend conducting further research to develop a model which can explain variation in satisfaction and to determine the weight each of the model’s influencing factors have in driving value. This can then be used by the ATO to prioritise resources, and Small business newsroom support and communications.
    • Develop deeper understanding of auto-subscribed population: Given the significant growth in the number of auto-subscribed small businesses, it would be of benefit to conduct further research to gain a deeper understanding of this population and their experience with the Small business newsroom.
    • Relevance (recommendation 4): Given the importance of relevance to small business respondents, further exploration in determining what influences perceived relevance, and how this can best be demonstrated.
    • User information: Consider means of collecting more detailed information on users, to assist in ensuring article relevance and to inform any future planned system enhancements. Examples of such information could include business size, industry type and number of employees and small business experience of owner.


    In summary, respondents were overall very positive about the Small business newsroom service, ie:

    • It appeared to have a positive impact on small businesses’ perceptions of the ATO
    • Its overall design and content was well received
    • It appeared to have a positive impact on small businesses’ taxation practices.


    (1) MailChimp, Email Marketing Benchmarks, read September 2016, located

    (2) ABS Cat No 8129.0 - Business Use of Information Technology, 2013–14


      Last modified: 02 Nov 2018QC 57282